Image: British Transport Police

UIC: education about rail trespassing is ‘imperative’

Trespassing on rail infrastructure was responsible for more than half of all significant rail accidents recorded in Europe last year, says the International Union of Railways (UIC), with freight train-related incidents accounting for nearly 200 victims, either killed or injured. The UIC says it is now ‘imperative’ that society as a whole – and in particular public bodies – becomes ‘more educated’ about publicising the dangers of trespassing on rail property and misusing level crossings.

Despite the 1,632 ‘significant accidents’ (involving at least one moving rail vehicle, resulting in at least one death or seriously injured person or damage to stock/track) occurring in 2016 being almost identical to the previous year’s figure of 1,625, these incidents resulted in 42 more deaths than 2015 (857). More than ever, says UIC, third parties are responsible for most accidents.”People take life-threatening risks due to negligence, distraction, recklessness, carelessness, laziness or a sense of urgency,” says the organisation in its annual report into railway accidents in Europe.

Protect the railways

“This is a major issue for the rail network…it is imperative that public authorities play their part in promoting education and raising awareness of risk, and continue their efforts to protect the railways from uncivil behaviour by third parties, just as they have done for the road transport sector for many years,” it adds.

A total of 52 per cent of accidents were down to trespassing, while 24 per cent came as a result of people misusing level crossings. Only 13 per cent of significant accidents recorded in UIC’s safety database could be attributed to ‘internal causes’, i.e those relating to technical or organisational failures or human factors. The remainder were down to weather and environmental conditions.

Level crossing misuse

While the overwhelming number of deaths and injuries involved passenger trains (79 per cent), 12 per cent were attributed to freight trains. Of those 197 victims, none of the accidents were attributed to collisions or derailments, however there were 136 accidents caused by moving rolling stock and 60 involving level crossings, reaffirming the UIC’s concerns about trespassing and level crossing misuse.

Despite these findings, the overall long-term trend relating to accidents is positive, says UIC. It points out that there has been a 30-35 per cent fall in accidents and victims over the 10 years leading up to 2016. “The railway sector…is making progress with regard to safety,” it adds.

Structural reduction

Frédéric Delorme, Chairman of the UIC Safety Platform, says: “Though the number of significant accidents in 2016 remains stable compared to 2015, we should not lose sight of the structural reduction over the past decade; between 2006 and 2016, the rail system as a whole was able to reduce the number of accidents by 31 per cent. The fall in the number of accident victims is even steeper; the number of serious injuries has halved over the same period whilst the number of fatalities has been cut by a third.

“Let us not forget that 80 per cent of railway accidents are caused by third parties, whether trespassers or level crossing users crossing at the wrong time. These are the accidents whose number is hardest to reduce, and whic the railways cannot eliminate alone. Society as a whole needs to be educated about risk, starting with public authorities,” adds Mr Delorme.

The report, which can be downloaded from the UIC website. is compiled within the context of the UIC’s Global Safety Index, which goes beyond the raw statistics behind each incident and instead weights each one according to cause, type, frequency and victim category. This approach, says UIC, enables it to gain a ‘deeper insight’ into general safety levels, rather than just focusing on rare, high-impact events. It concludes that while accident numbers stablised between 2015 and 2016, the GSI is decreasing rapidly, which points to a continuous improvement in rail safety levels across the continent.

Image: UIC

Risking their lives

The UK, along with its European neighbours, is fighting a constant battle to police the country’s railways and ensure people do not take risks, but the messages are still being ignored. Network Rail and British Transport Police says more people than ever are risking their lives on the network by trespassing. Incidents are at an all-time high, they say, with on average one person every hour trespassing on the railway. In 2016, there were more than 8,000 incidents, up three per cent on the previous year. Young people are the most likely to do it, with just under half of those killed aged under 25.

Allan Spence, Head of Public and Passenger Safety at Network Rail, said: “Britain has the safest railway in Europe but still too many people lose their lives on the tracks. The dangers may not always be obvious but the electricity on the railways is always on and trains can travel up to 125 miles per hour, so even if they see you, they can’t stop in time.”

Safety database

The safety database is based on findings from the respective national rail infrastructure bodies. Its members are ADIF & ADIF-AV (Spain); CFL (Luxembourg); CFR-SA (Romania); DB AG (Germany); Eurotunnel (France and UK); HZ (Croatia); Network Rail (UK); Infrabel (Belgium); IP (Portugal), BANE NOR SF (Norway); MAV (Hungary); ÖBB (Austria); PKP (Poland); ProRail (The Netherlands); SNCF Réseau (France); FS RFI (Italy); SBB CFF FSS (Switzerland); SZ (Slovenia); SZDC (Czech Republic); Trafikverket (Sweden); and ZSR (Slovakia).

The UIC has already this year launched a website designed to promote its safer level crossings campaign, SAFER-LC EU. This three-year programme, which is being run with the backing of the European Union, aims to improve safety and minimise risk on both freight and passenger routes. One of its key goals is developing what UIC calls ‘cross-modal innovative solutions and tools’ for the proactive management and design of level crossing infrastructure. Involving 17 European partner organisations across 10 countries, SAFER-LC has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Author: Simon Weedy

Simon is a journalist for - a dedicated online platform for all the news about the rail freight sector

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